Planting Garlic at Harvest Tide Farm
At Harvest Tide, since we have been able to start prepping the fields in the fall before we start our CSA, the very first crop we get to plant is organic garlic. Garlic is typically planted in the mid to late fall, before the ground freezes. The goal is to set the cloves in early enough so they have time to set roots before the soil temps drop too low, but not so early that the garlic starts to send up shoots looking for spring sunshine. With the weird falls we have been getting here in Maine, particularly the bursts of warmth that seem to be happening more and more frequently late into the fall, nailing the timing can be difficult. We aimed for late-October, getting the garlic planted between the 18th and 22nd. We seemed to get lucky, and by mid November, we had some beautiful roots on our little cloves.
There are six different types of garlic dormant in the field now; three soft necks - Inchellium Red, Nootka Rose, and Polish White and three hard necks - Russian Red, Georgian Fire, and Bowdoinham Music - a locally maintained strain of the common variety Music that has been passed between and improved upon by growers in our area. We were very lucky to source this variety from our garlic expert friends and neighbors at Whatley Farm.
After planting all types and carefully recording where we planted each variety, we let the cloves be until it began to get colder and we were starting to see regular frosts. Then, we covered the ground above all of the garlic with about 5-6 inches of straw, which slows the freezing of the soil, and protects the garlic from temperature fluctuations (freezing and thawing during the winter) that can harm the cloves.
This year we planted about 3000 cloves of garlic, which will (nature willing) grow into 3000 heads. We hope to have some for our CSA, but mostly this first year will be a seed growing year. Garlic "seed" is usually purchased as heads of garlic, and they look just like those you buy at the grocery store or farmer's market. The main difference is that they have been grown free of (and have tested negative for) diseases that can be transmitted to garlic and fields via seed. This added value of clean seed and high seasonal demand can make seed garlic expensive, particularly certified organic seed, which is essential for organic production. Because of the cost of garlic seed, many farmers save a portion of their heads every year to plant for themselves, rather than sell to their customers. This year - our first year - that is what we are doing mostly, growing seed so that next year we can plant an even larger amount, so as to have some to plant and lots to give to our garlic loving customers!
Now that everything is dormant, and lots more winter is on its way, there is not much to do by way of garlic but sit and wait for spring and the first green shoots that signal all the garlic bread to come.